I read a quote on Facebook this morning that said,
“We are all just waiting for someone to notice… notice our pain, notice our scars, notice our fear, notice our joy, notice our triumphs, notice our courage. And the one who notices is a rare and beautiful gift.” – Rachel Macy Stafford, Only Love Today
It made me realise that all the things we see in the news, all the stuff happening – good and bad – is a result of people trying to be noticed.
Watching in horror at what is happening in Charlottesville, I realised that the problem with white privilege is that most people are not aware of it. If you are born into a position where you don’t have to fight to get a vote, fight to get equal pay, fight not to be searched for no reason on the streets, fight to be allowed to marry for love, fight for representation in government – if these things happen just because of who you are and where you were born – then you don’t feel noticed.
The counter-reaction ‘All Lives Matter’ to ‘Black Lives Matter’ is the perfect example. We all want to feel special, but if you don’t realise that you are special just by winning the birth lottery, you need to find a new way of being noticed. Never mind that ‘being noticed’ for many is being abused, hated, feared, belittled and demonised.
And oh, social media; the perfect platform for the invisible. Trolls, trying to be noticed by being controversial. Bigots and racists and Trump supporters getting a voice and being noticed in their droves, screaming into the void and not caring who they are stomping over in their desperate need to be somebody. Even average, probably lovely, people on my local Facebook social page, bragging about calling 999 because someone is playing their music too loud at midnight on a Saturday.
Us creatives write our books, knit our toys, paint our pictures, and then wait for the world to notice and be impressed (or maybe that’s just me!) We look for nice reviews, good reactions, a heart emoji on a Facebook share, because it makes us feel special.
Actually, that’s true for everybody. I read somewhere that the physical reaction to getting likes on a Facebook post or a Tweet is similar to the high from a drug. That’s why children are glued to their phones, seeking affirmation. The louder, busier, noisier the world gets, the harder it is to feel special, the more extreme our efforts need to be to get heard.
I think about when I was a child. I knew about twenty people. I knew people were my friends because they said so, or sent me a note in class, or came round to play.
I got noticed by being good at school. I was desperate for teacher praise and it took me all the way to a first-class degree. My sister was ace at gymnastics and competed at county. We felt real because of what we achieved, and it made us try hard to excel at those things.
My kids now want to have YouTube channels and Instagram accounts. They’re 6 and 8. They want to be noticed by people who don’t know them and won’t care about hurting their feelings, and they don’t understand why I am reluctant to let them. I want them to have the simpler life I had – I want them to compete at karate if they want recognition, or excel at school. I suspect that feels like too much work, when they watch Kacy and Jacy with their 1.7M subscribers and 8M views (Although the girls must have worked so hard to make as many videos as they have, and they do some crazy things). I cringe every time they lovely girls sign off their videos with “We love you sooooo much.” Really?
There is an upside to social media of course. We can connect with our tribe. We can be noticed by people who are like us. As I was searching for the Rachel Stafford quotation above, I read the page of the book that it is from (I must read the whole book, it looks lovely. I follow the Facebook page). Rachel describes an incident in a café, where her daughter reassures someone who made an error by saying, “That happens to me.” That is the core of tribe. We can be noticed and appreciated by people who get us. Empathy goes a long way, and is at the heart of good noticing. Noticing to be able to say, “Me too”.
My blog is my happy space of followers who understand me, who accept me for who I am. Ditto the parenting blogs I follow on Facebook. The one where 500 people shared photos of their messy houses to make a mother feel better about not being able to live up to the glossy magazine ideal. The blogs with mums reaching for wine in the holidays or wanting to sell their kids on ebay (don’t be silly, you made him, sell him on etsy, one meme says). Being noticed by friends who see you having good days and bad days. Social media can stop us being lonely. But there is a fine line between quenching the desire to be noticed and life being defined by the search for it.
That said, actively noticing people can be such a positive thing. So much of children playing up is because they want to be seen. Although by this point in the summer holidays the phrase “Mummy, look at me!” is driving me to distraction, remembering what is at the heart of it makes life so much easier. I can tell when my children feel like I don’t see them. That’s when they nag and pester and fight and become impossible to live with. They’ll even take shouting and tears from me as evidence that they exist: Any reaction is better than no reaction. If I’m not careful I’ll turn them into Twitter Trolls. Recognising what is at the root of it means occasionally I know to stop, turn off the phone, make eye contact, actually notice what they’re trying to show me. It’s exhausting but oh so rewarding. And a little noticing goes a long way.
For me, too, I can tell when I’m grumpy with my husband because he hasn’t seen me, or something I’ve achieved. These days I just hand him the words. “Please notice that I spent two hours cleaning the kitchen because your dad is coming over. No, that’s not enough Wow, more noticing please.” It works, for us, even though it makes me feel like a petulant child. And for him too, often the most invisible person in the household because he asks for so little. Telling him he looks handsome (rather than noticing he needs a shower!) transforms him. I should do it more often. But we do our best.
Sometimes we steal the line from Avatar, which puts it more succinctly than a thousand-word blog post.
“I see you.”